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The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

3.45  ·  Rating details ·  685 ratings  ·  153 reviews
Libraries are filled with magic. From the Bodleian, the Folger and the Smithsonian to the fabled libraries of middle earth, Umberto Eco’s mediaeval library labyrinth and libraries dreamed up by John Donne, Jorge Luis Borges and Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Stuart Kells explores the bookish places, real and fictitious, that continue to capture our imaginations.

The Library: A Catalogu
Paperback, 288 pages
Published August 28th 2017 by Text Publishing
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Average rating 3.45  · 
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 ·  685 ratings  ·  153 reviews

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Jill Hutchinson
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was ok
I always thought I was a bibliophile but this book tells me that I am not since I am not familiar, nor particularly interested, with the contents of stone tablets or any BCE and early CE writings on vellum. parchment, et al. So much of the book is dedicated to those eras that it became a real slog for me to get through it.

The author also jumps around all over recorded time and does not take the story of the creation of libraries in a chronological order. The libraries he does discuss (I have bee
Jun 22, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Imagine going into a library you've never been to before to find something to read.

Some of the books are shelved in order of publication; except when they're not.

Others shelves share a common subject; except when don't.

There's no card catalog or database to help you find what you want in this mess and the librarians won't tell you where the books have come from.

That's what this book is.

It has no index, no cited sources, no narrative focus, and no mention of libraries outside of Europe and Ameri
Sue Gerhardt Griffiths
Aug 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, giveaway
I’m sure I have never come across a non-fiction book covering such an extensive amount of research on the history of libraries. Amazing!

Oh, I do love my books but I can’t say I’m addicted or obsessed in buying or collecting books as some of these collectors were centuries ago. The mind boggles at the extent some collectors went to to acquire books but they also gave me a good laugh.

This book will appeal to anyone who is an obsessive collector and hoarder of books and anyone wanting knowledge ab
Jun 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book and good information here but its mostly anecdotal and about famous people that happened to like libraries through history. Great for a light read and for some historical facts related to libraries , not for a in depth study of the state of libraries as such.
Text Publishing
‘The Library abounds in fascinating tales of lost codices and found manuscripts, and the sometimes unscrupulous schemes by which people have conspired to obtain or amass valuable volumes.’
New York Times

‘I had been half expecting some sort of slide show, featuring gorgeous libraries of the world, but it’s not that kind of book. It’s more about the human drama of libraries, with gossip alongside anecdotes about the history of libraries.’
ANZ Lit Lovers

‘On a vivid tour of the world’s great librarie
David Eppenstein
I have a thing for books. Not just the reading of them but the physical existence of them; the possession of them; the sight of them; the smell, the weight, the texture. I really like my books. So when I came across this little gem there was no question as to its purchase. I added it to my "Books About Books" shelf to be read another day. That day recently arrived and I'd like to tell you what I discovered.

I can't really say what I expected from this thin little volume of 264 pages of text. I su
Sarah -  All The Book Blog Names Are Taken
Loved it! But, big surprise, I loved a book about books and the houses they live in.

Full review to come!


My full review can be found at: https://allthebookblognamesaretaken.b...
Jan 31, 2018 rated it liked it
I went to a talk by this author at my local library and enjoyed this so bought signed copies of this book for a friend, my boss and myself. For that reason I was hoping this book would be good. I did enjoy most of it but with some reservations. Some of it was a little highbrow for my taste and read like lists of authors, scholars and libraries. When the author introduced anecdotal stories of libraries, authors and book collectors etc.. I liked it a whole lot more. Overall though a subject I am p ...more
Some interesting book-related anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book, but the organization of the book layout/categories felt a bit hap-hazard. As a result, it was difficult to feel a thread or a solid coherence rather than a compilation of factoids under general categories.
Feb 14, 2018 rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book more than I did. It was a gift from a friend, from halfway around the world. It's signed by the author. It's about libraries! What's not to like? Unfortunately, the book was rather dry and erudite for my tastes. Interesting or amusing anecdotes scattered throughout the book kept me reading, but it felt really disjointed overall, like the author was listing examples without expounding on them. The book would've benefited from either editing down or expanding to a ...more
Jan 08, 2018 rated it liked it
3 1/2 stars. Thanks to Goodreads and Text Publishing for my copy. What I liked best about this book were the quirky anecdotes about libraries and the bibliophiles who created them and what I struggled with was the vast amount of detail and dates and the rapidity in which they were delivered. I understand it’s a vast topic but I just can’t absorb that amount of detail. Most of all though I wanted pictures (maybe it’s just the visual learner in me)! As I was reading I had to Google images of the l ...more
Bethany Kok
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was ok
A totally unstructured amble through the history of books and libraries, full of name-dropping and unexplained references. I should have stopped when I realized there were no citations or footnotes. The author barely touches on non-Western libraries but devotes more than a chapter to Tolkien's treatment of books and libraries in Middle Earth. Paragraphs are awkwardly linked and feature segues only a hair less clumsy and lurching than "speaking of ..." There must be a better book about the histor ...more
Diane Challenor
I enjoyed every word in this book. It’s a treasure!
Angelique Simonsen
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
an unexpected delight though dry at times. I learnt the best fact ever though....that the Bodelian library and I were born on the same day 381 years apart! Must be fate that I am a librarian lol
Lacking structure and a choppy read. I love books and libraries but this book only had a few interesting antidotes. Maybe I am just not a true bibliophile… I wanted to give up but was determined to finish. Maybe this is just for fanatical librarians?
Apr 13, 2022 rated it it was amazing
This was a delightful book. It was so full of facts and antidotes about libraries and reading and authors. I could not absorb all the information. I think it’s a book you might have to read two or three times and take notes. But just reading it I feel like I am enriched. Just to read about people that love books and collecting books. So interesting. Also my wonderful little puppy decide to chew the corner of the book which belonged to the library. So I ended up ordering one to replace the damage ...more
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I approached Stuart Kells’ “The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders” warily. A book about books and book collecting? As much as I love books, I had little desire to lose myself in 250-odd pages about ancients, eccentrics and the vagaries of printing if the narrator came off as too pleased with himself, as bibliophiles sometimes do. (Listen, I resemble that remark.) Even the publishing business could be made dull, as I found with Robert Gottlieb’s tedious “Avid Reader.”

I needn’t have worried. Kells’
Jennifer (JC-S)
Nov 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
‘Every library has an atmosphere, even a spirit.’

My own love affair with libraries started well over half a century ago. The libraries of my youth were places of magic, of possibilities to be explored. They were also places of refuge. But what are libraries, and how have they evolved over the centuries? In this book, Stuart Kells writes about libraries (both fictitious and real) and their influence on individuals, on literature and on culture more generally.

‘If a library can be something as simp
Natalie  S
A leading Australian bibliophile goes on a tour of thousands of libraries. The result isn’t a punchline but in fact a book called The Library by Stuart Kells. This volume is a fascinating text that draws together Kells’ scholarly essays on a range of different topics related to the storage of books, reading in general and different methods of communication through history. It’s an intriguing trip skipping through the history books and hearing about places that are so much more than a mere storer ...more
Luc Brien
Mar 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
I first heard of this book while listening to an interview with Stuart Kells on Radio National, and I was so excited to see a copy in my local library. When I got it home and started to read it, however, I soon realised that this book was not for me. It's not so much a "catalogue of wonders" as it is a list of things that happened, some of which took place in libraries.
While there are definitely some interesting library facts in here (the re-evolution of libraries through the ages, for example),
Anne Fenn
Jan 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
A fascinating read. Packed so full of interesting facts and figures about libraries, my head couldn't take them all in. Stuart Kells is an Australian booklover, and I often noted a little thread to Australia pop up in places all over the world. I liked that. He begins with Australian Indigenous peoples' form of library, then moves historically through many of the world's libraries, right up to modern times. There's a big emphasis on collectors of early manuscripts and books in all forms. Wealth ...more
Jan 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
A history of libraries! How could one resist? Parts of this were a trifle dull (like chronological lists of bequests to the Vatican Library), but other parts were highly interesting. I was kept busy looking up images of famous libraries he mentioned and they are fabulous palaces. I liked his recognition of the sensory impact that books have: their feel and smell (there was one series of young people books in my childhood that smelled like formaldehyde, and to this day, the smell takes me back). ...more
Sep 05, 2017 rated it liked it
I received a copy of this book by way of a Goodreads Giveaway and was initially interested in it due to the Australian link and, also, because I too love libraries. I didn't, however, find it to be the 'catalogue of wonders' it promised to be. The author is clearly a highly educated, scholarly person with a deep understanding of both libraries and books. While I was impressed at his wealth of knowledge on the subject of libraries, I personally found the book to be too highbrow and not as interes ...more
Natalie Romano
Sep 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5/5. This book provides a delightful survey of library history. Kells is a masterful storyteller, weaving together bookish anecdotes and fascinating data about libraries spanning from the Villa of the Papyri to J.P. Morgan's extensive illuminated manuscript collection. Serious scholars and recreational library users alike will appreciate Kells's thoughtful treatment of libraries - conceptual, physical, and fantastic - as institutions of social, intellectual, and anthropological importance thro ...more
victor harris
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was ok
Not many " Wonders" in this. Some interesting and entertaining anecdotes but reads more like a list of books and how they were destroyed or stolen. No consistent story line, more pieced together segments. ...more
Warren Wulff
This is less a book about libraries than a book about the book trade and how book collectors collect books and upon the end of their lives endow them into libraries. I think if the author had taken this angle from the start and then focused on showing this back and forth flow of books within a structured narrative as they collect into libraries and are dispersed again and recollect at the hands and organizational intent of different people then we would have something to hang our hat on and it w ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, libraries
Anecdotal rather than comprehensive, this book is for readers who like serendipity. Kells includes wonderful bits of library lore (and from all kinds of libraries, private, public, Medieval, fantasy) and book collecting trivia. The segments on the evolution of the Folger Library and Tolkien's concept of the library as a symbol of civilization were particularly intriguing. Don't pick this up expecting a linear history of libraries. Kells' devotion to and knowledge of the book world is evident fro ...more
Dan Seitz
A series of interconnected essays about libraries and the people (generally rich nerds) who fill them, this is fairly interesting for bibliophiles, but starts to run low on gas towards the end. A late chapter about libraries in fantasy, mostly Tolkien, in particular, starts to drag. Still, if you love books, libraries, or just trivia about both, this is worth reading.
Dec 31, 2021 rated it liked it
An interesting book - not what I expected. I thought this was going to be a history of a specific library (one with a lot of Wonders), but it is actually a history of The Library as a concept. I learned a lot about the history of libraries, specifically older to ancient ones (there isn't a lot on modern libraries) and enjoyed the read. But - as above - not what I expected at all. ...more
Cliff Boler
May 21, 2022 rated it it was amazing
Someone below was like, "This is just a long regurgitated series of anecdotes about books". My take was, "I know! How cool is that?".

Sure... it may not be packaged in the best way, but it's still great to know these stories. Depending on where you fall in that spectrum, you may or may not be into this... but, you should read it anyway.
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Stuart Kells is a Melbourne-based author. His history of Penguin Books, Penguin and the Lane Brothers, won the Ashurst Australian Business Literature Prize.

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149 likes · 39 comments
“When visitors called on the seventeenth-century Welsh bibliophile Sir William Boothby, he wished they would hurry up and leave. “My company is gone, so that now I hope to enjoy my selfe and books againe, which are the true pleasures of my life, all else is but vanity and noyse.” 2 likes
“And then there is the small matter of the Facetiae, the fifteenth century’s most scandalous book of rude jokes. Poggio wrote the Facetiae between 1438 and 1452. Some of the jokes are about church politics and current affairs. Most are about sex. Jokes about lusty parishioners, lecherous merchants, magical orifices, gullible patients, lewd factotums, randy hermits (St. Gallus must have turned in his grave), simple-minded grooms, libidinous peasants, seductive friars—and the woman who tells her husband she has two vaginas (duos cunnos), one in front that she would share with him; the other behind—for the Church. Building on this theme, Poggio’s joke number CLXXXI is an “Amusing remark by a young woman in labour.” In Florence, a young woman, somewhat of a simpleton, is on the point of giving birth. She has long endured acute pain, and the midwife, candle in hand, inspects secretiora ejus, in order to ascertain if the baby is coming: “Look also on the other side,” the poor creature says. “My husband has sometimes taken that road.” 1 likes
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